Moral Philosophy

Ethics Part 9: The Birth of a Nation and Invention of the American Ethos


The American Revolutionary War began on April 19, 1775 when British soldiers fired on Massachusetts militia who refused to surrender their arms after being ordered to do so. In the immediate engagement at Lexington and Concord, casualties numbered about 90 colonists and 300 red coats.  Both sides comprised British citizens, and so this marked the beginning of what would be considered by the Crown an armed insurrection of citizens against their government. For the other side, it represented a flare-up of the overreaching of the government and trampling on the rights of British citizens living in America. In point of fact, the first right Americans fought for was self-defense against aggression by their would-be masters, not the right to be represented in government and taxed only by consent of those representatives, as is commonly assumed. While the colonists had for years complained of a tax burden a fraction of today’s and poor or absent representation, this was not the casus belli nor does it come close to explaining why the war happened or what came about as a result. Fundamental for Britons living in America in the 18th century was the Lockean view that the right that underpins and precedes the rest is the right to defend oneself, one’s property and one’s community against attack. While accurate numbers are hard to come by, total fatalities in the war, including disease and starvation among prisoners whose treatment was harsh, numbered around 50-70 thousand between 1775 and 1783. While significant, the deaths were a much lower percentage of the population than perished in the American Civil War (1861-1865), which was also a fight between the central government and its citizens, and civilian engagement was negligible by comparison with that later conflagration. The American Revolution is often compared to the French Revolution which took place a few years later. It is generally held that the former was successful while the latter was a failure.  This may have to do with who was doing the dying more than in the actual outcome of the fight, or how empires used each as proxy wars just as they continue to do today. The French Revolution ended monarchy in one go and killed the king, his wife, and a large number of aristocrats to attempt to create a more egalitarian society, which resulted in France becoming a pariah without sponsor among the great powers. It is ironic that the King of France had been sympathetic to the American cause, though of course he was happy to give the English trouble, and without his support the American Revolution would most likely have ended in humiliating defeat for the colonists. The French Revolution was not much bloodier than the American until the great powers decided to put down the vulgar upstarts and Napoleon smashed them all to firmly establish the Republic. One could argue the deaths in the “Reign of Terror” were a surgical strike to address the real forces preventing people from being free. In America, this extreme measure was not tried at least in part because disparity of wealth was not so great and America was, compared to France, a nation of haves and have-mores, but where none were truly rich and few poor by European standards.  Deaths in America were mostly limited to the ranks of those who were expected to die in wars, namely young men who were without social position, or were either ambitious or felt obligated to lead (just as today). America was already the most egalitarian and open society in the “civilized” world and so the revolution there was seen at least initially by Republican Whigs like Edmund Burke more as a continuation of the Glorious Revolution of 1688 to re-establish parity between commons, nobles and king than it was as a creation of a new nation. Reasons why the war in America was much more of a radical transformation than is commonly supposed or was initially expected by most at the time will be explored briefly here. This is necessary to understand the context for the American polity that ensued, a part of which was the U.S. Constitution, being the extant supreme law of the land, even if honored mainly in the breach. The United States’ founding document expresses not the balance between social castes but the limitations on the power of government which is held in suspicion and is always on probation by unruly citizens to whom it reports rather than who are the subjects of the king or government.  That this distinction between American and British polity in the eighteenth century and later is not generally understood is shocking, but recognizing the myopia is the first step in realizing how the American Revolution changed thinking about laws, rights and the place of citizens in society at least for a time.

Four forces shaped the spirit of a new nation: 1., Evangelical Christianity supported by broadening literacy and its emphasis on one’s conscience as the chief guide of one’s actions – that the individual is a sovereign will and agreements between individuals are covenants ultimately generated by and a function of the covenant of each with God; 2., Enlightenment ideas about man’s ability to be the master of his own destiny and not be cast about by fate; 3., The frontier mentality born of the reality that if you didn’t grow up with a gun and blade or tomahawk nearby that you could ably use, you might not grow up at all. Attacks came at night and without warning and you needed to be ready. Mostly this was the responsibility of men, but frontier women notably fought off attackers with ferocity when necessary; and 4., The desire and manifestation of those who were successful to be gentlemen and cultured citizens that was both very British and uniquely a matter of the more socially mobile and economically less stratified society that had already evolved in America. The interplay between these factors was complex but to say that America was purely the product of a few rich dudes in powdered wigs who used the rhetoric of liberty in completely cynical and hypocritical ways is not born out by the facts.  What is certainly true is that self-reliance born of frontier realities, the business of America being business, religion and dissent from organized religion, and the social ambitions of the emerging affluent and burgeoning middle class all combined in creative tension and compromise to create a national ethos and polity which may be receding into the mists of time and mythology but is still very real for a significant plurality of Americans.  Then as now, they “clung to their guns and religion,” as Barack Obama put it, and were deeply suspicious of anyone who wanted to confiscate their property or tell them what to do or say.

The Great Awakening

Protestant preachers Cotton Mather and Jonathan Edwards were more significant in shaping how most people in America thought than were any number of enlightenment thinkers, with the exception of John Locke, whose libertarianism was well baked into collective consciousness by the middle of the 18th century.  It is also important to note that literacy in America among all classes was high relative to all prior periods in history and growing higher. It is hard to verify, but by the time of the Revolution, the percentage of functional literates among adults in America may have been comparable to what it is today without public schools. These two divines were responsible for the direction of puritanism in New England and had a great deal of influence in the remaining American colonies as well. They not only famously circulated their sermons but also were involved in public policy, legal cases including but not limited to the disposal of accused witches, education and medicine, including pioneering efforts at inoculation against smallpox.  What is most notable is that they represented the most vocal American mouthpieces for the evangelical movement that swept the English speaking world in the early to mid-1700’s known as The Great Awakening. This movement was non-denominational across protestant sects but was especially relevant for all those who were not High-Church Anglican. This includes Presbyterians, Non-synodical or Congregationalist Anglicans, Baptists, Methodists, and assorted splinter groups that continue under different names. This movement was the origination of what is now referred to as “born-again Christianity,” with its emphasis on a personal and conscious surrender and commitment to Christ as one’s personal savior.  Quakers and Lutherans had their own pietistic movements and were largely unaffected, though the spirit of revival was in the air and they couldn’t help but be aware of it, even if they were outside looking in. Catholics were viewed by adherents with a mixture of tolerance and suspicion but the evangelical movement in Catholicism happened separately and is more associated with post empire Spain and came back to the United States later, translated from Spanish.

The style of preaching that came with revivalism in the colonies has been referred to as “fire and brimstone.” This is because while Edwards at least was reputedly mild in speech and demeanor, the message was often designed to scare listeners into recognition of their sinfulness and danger of damnation as a precursor to their conversion. This is important because of the two most important movements impacting how colonists thought and behaved, one was telling them repent because the end is near and they are helpless without God’s mercy; and the other was telling them that God either saves everyone or no-one, forgot all about us or never existed – though in America few indeed would publicly cop to outright atheism at the time. There is no aspect of American life that was not then impacted by evangelical Christianity and the ethos of the nation is steeped in it even among those who rejected its message.  Significantly, many slaves and ex-slaves were brought on board and saved in revivals. The inclusiveness, equality and emphasis on individual decision for Christ was actually empowering to people who had nothing.  Additionally, the virtue of the saved was very different from the virtue of gentlemen. The one emphasized plain and fair dealing, hard work and transparency. The other emphasized doing what will bring honor and avoiding what won’t.  Libertinism was frowned upon generally much more than in France at the time and there were profound behavioral differences which one might expect of Americans, who were and are among the most conforming people on the planet despite having been involved in bloody internecine conflict from time to time. This is really not surprising when you realize that the lawfulness of Americans, and even the idea that this could be a nation of laws, not men, does not come first from Montesquieu or Roman writers, but from the daily experience of Christians reading The Bible and doing business with other Christians with God looking over their shoulders.

R.H Tawney said in Religion and The Rise of Capitalism (1926):

“If preachers have not yet overtly identified themselves with the view of the natural man, expressed by an eighteenth-century writer in the words, trade is one thing and religion is another, they imply a not very different conclusion by their silence as to the possibility of collisions between them. The characteristic doctrine was one, in fact, which left little room for religious teaching as to economic morality, because it anticipated the theory, later epitomized by Adam Smith in his famous reference to the invisible hand, which saw in economic self-interest the operation of a providential plan… The existing order, except in so far as the short-sighted enactments of Governments interfered with it, was the natural order, and the order established by nature was the order established by God. Most educated men, in the middle of the [18th] century, would have found their philosophy expressed in the lines of Pope:

Thus God and Nature formed the general frame,

And bade self-love and social be the same.

Naturally, again, such an attitude precluded a critical examination of institutions, and left as the sphere of Christian charity only those parts of life which could be reserved for philanthropy, precisely because they fell outside that larger area of normal human relations, in which the promptings of self-interest provided an all-sufficient motive and rule of conduct.”

The influence of Adam Smith on American policy was not so much that he gave economists something to do. That happened much later. Rather, it was that he got preachers, teachers and statesmen on the same page about how commerce and spirituality were connected. To a great extent, the divines of New England had already been there for some time before Smith figured this out, but the Scottish Enlightenment also belonged to them and the smartest among them went back and forth across the pond throughout the 18th century working out how these ideas could help society function. This was therefore no ivory tower discipline. Classical economics, American spirituality and American ways of doing business all go hand in hand.

Max Weber, in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, (1905 in German, 1930 in English) worked out the sociology of religion and work more comprehensively in the context of his broader socio-economic theory. Most telling about Weber’s work is that he makes a critical and convincing case that religion created capitalism and not the other way around as Karl Marx would have it. Of course, G.F. Hegel would have been the first to point this out because he already knew that a strictly materialistic view of his phenomenology was corrupt and corrupting before Marx ever claimed to turn his ideas right side up.  Once again, materialism and nihilism not only don’t produce economic success, they can’t capitalize on it – pun intended.  More recently, Michael Novak’s Spirit of Democratic Capitalism  (1982) picks up the thread again and does from a theological point of view what Weber did not: he connects economic liberty and religious liberty to show how they support and interpenetrate each other – which is pretty much what Jonathan Edwards was about back in the 1700’s.  This line of thinking demonstrates how American Evangelicalism was essential to and not counter to the development of an open and pluralistic society.  It also has much to say to socialists from soft to hard core about why their utopias always end in tragedy as well as why the government of the People’s Republic of China is afraid of rapidly growing evangelical Christianity in China.

So yes, once upon a time they did burn innocent young women as witches in protestant New England. They also created the cure for ideological thralldom of society (with or without God) and liberated many, including slaves, from the “weight of sin” that held them back from seeing themselves as hopeful beings with a potentially better future ahead. They did all this while encouraging people to be useful engines on the main line of life – which is not such a bad deal in the grand scheme of things, unless you believe that a few dozen female martyrs are unacceptable losses while the hundreds of thousands of men who died so their descendants could be free are a matter of course.

Two Takes on Common Sense

The influence of both Thomas Paine and Thomas Reid on the shaping of the American Ethos is seldom fully appreciated.  Paine’s “Common Sense” was the pamphlet that turned a skirmish into a bona fide fight for independence. Reid’s philosophy of common sense was a practical counterpoint to abstruse continental philosophy and informed the mindset of the American clergy and much of what passed for a colonial intelligentsia, who did read the Roman stoics and historians and modern literature but didn’t digest much in the way of modern philosophy including British empiricism after Locke and French enlightenment writing. Reid particularly called out Hume as one whose skepticism led people to a dark place and was itself tantamount to nihilism. David Hume is the best known philosopher of the Scottish enlightenment and his ideas were important but less influential in 18th century America than might be supposed. America mainly got Hume second hand through Adam Smith, who in addition to being Hume’s friend was a protégé of Francis Hutcheson’s and professor of moral philosophy (not economics) at Glasgow. While Alexander Hamilton quoted Hume at least once, there is scant evidence that he read much of what Hume had to say about science and metaphysics. Hamilton, who was usually the smartest guy in a room of smart guys, didn’t have time for much of the kind of European philosophy one might have heard in Baron D’Holbach’s salon.

Reid’s take on much of continental philosophy was neatly summarized by Samuel Johnson’s quip about the woolly-headedness of Bishop Berkeley’s denial of our ability to perceive what is external to our minds, which both oddly counts as empiricism and birthed philosophical idealism. Johnson “refuted Berkeley thus,” by kicking a stone. Of course philosophers ever since tried to debunk Johnson as a philistine who didn’t get Berkeley’s argument. Many similarly dismissed Reid, who was out of his depth with Hume, but his philosophy was picked up by Benjamin Rush when he was a medical student at Edinburgh if not before, and most likely was influential in the thinking of Thomas Jefferson and other notables on the American scene. Ultimately, Scottish common sense philosophy became part of the American psyche, and was the pre-curser to the pragmatism of Charles S. Peirce, the analytic philosophy of G.E. Moore and what was later derisively termed “naïve realism,” of which Ayn Rand’s objectivism could be termed an instance. If one could say there was an official philosophy of America this would have to be it – and most people today know nothing about it despite having been influenced by it because the “empiricists” and “idealists” later carried the day.

Thomas Paine was a propagandist but his thought was not unsophisticated. His career was remarkable in that he was among the very few American’s of the period who was influential in both the American and French Revolutions. His pamphlet “Common Sense” created broad support in the colonies for the idea that America really is and should be a separate and self-determining country.  But Paine was reviled and ignored by many who had been his friends or had pretended to be when he was useful to them, but didn’t want to know him when his association could cause them embarrassment. This was most pointed and nearly tragic when Gouverneur Morris let him rot in prison in France waiting for an execution that didn’t come more by accident than anything, which Paine later blamed on the already sanctified George Washington.  Paine was also not a “gentleman.” He was the son of an English Quaker tradesman who made stays for ladies corsets. This was honest trade and Paine had an up-bringing that was middle class. Paine was sponsored in America and later with influentials in France and among senior Whigs like Burke in England by Ben Franklin, who got him right away and launched him as a propagandist and activist with his friends in the printing trade. Swells on both sides of the pond never let him forget that he would never be somebody because he didn’t have the right stuff.  Whatever he felt about this, Paine never acted like he cared what they thought. What Paine actually did was to put in plain language that most people could understand what it means to be an American – and in so doing he did much to create the breed. Among other things, Paine advocated an early form of welfare society and his republicanism was radical in a time for radicals.

The following quote from “Common Sense” is very Lockean but is a novel formulation that opens Paine’s description of what proper government is about:

“SOME writers have so confounded society with government, as to leave little or no distinction between them; whereas they are not only different, but have different origins. Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness; the former promotes our happiness positively by uniting our affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions. The first is a patron, the last a punisher.”

For those who think Paine not an original thinker, I would say this: when James Fennimore Cooper created the character of Hawkeye in 1826, he could not have done so had it not been for “Common Sense”, which made the idea real.  It is fair to say that without Paine, there would have been no United States but might never have been Americans of the kind that Cooper and then De Tocqueville wrote about. This is so because Paine synthesized the pieces that were there into an ethos and this gave people something to aim at and copy as well as a clear voice for what they already knew but couldn’t put into words.  America didn’t happen only because of the deep thoughts and vanity of gentlemen, but because of the aspirations and sacrifices of many ordinary people and their champions across class lines. Though the progressives and even outright socialists might want to claim him, Paine was the original deplorable, and his children are legion.

Frontier Life

Pennsylvania had a culture created by Quakers who seemed hell bent on getting themselves and their non-Quaker neighbors martyred for their faith, or at minimum getting an ear cut off for having big mouths. New England had a culture created by dour Presbyterians and enthusiastic Baptists.  Virginia formed a culture of rustics trying to be cultivated English country gentlemen with varying degrees of success — a lot for Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and James Madison; not so much for Patrick Henry. All of these, but especially the Pennsylvanians, were at any point only a few miles or minutes away from being captured, tortured or killed by Native Americans who didn’t want them there or had been stirred up by agent provocateurs of other governments.

No Christian sect was more consistent in believing in the principle of equality than the Quakers. Moreover, they were against war and slavery long before it became fashionable to oppose either. Their commitment to simplicity of dress meant that they promulgated habits of looking others in the eye whom their contemporaries might have viewed as either so above themselves to make them awestruck or beneath consideration. Their positions were uncompromising on principles they held dear, so much so that their inability to swear oaths of any kind disqualified them for positions of leadership in society for which they may have been eminently qualified. This was frustrating to Ben Franklin and others who saw their convictions as both admirable and problematic as they knew that making a free society required compromise. Quakers took unpopular and sometimes infuriating positions when it came to allocating funds for common defense or stopping frontier raids by “Indians.”  During and after the Seven Years War, the French and British used Native Americans of opposing tribes as proxies, much like the United States would use the radicalized Muslims and Mujahedeen to prevent Arab unity or hurt the Soviet Union many years later. Blowback is nothing new. The result was that co-existence with Indians in Western Pennsylvania became all but impossible. The Quakers became unpopular with their neighbors who wanted government intervention against those who were killing men, women and children in the night. Similar problems occurred in Virginia and other colonies. However, no matter what was said then and later about the hard-headedness and reckless idealism of the Quakers, without them America would not have become anything like the society the Friends tried to create with some measure of success in their City of Brotherly Love, which was America’s first metropolis.

The Quest for Disinterested Gentility Among the Babbitry and Would Be Aristocrats

Ben Franklin, having left the boring and constrained world of New England to become an arch Philadelphian and America’s first yuppie, created his Junto, which was a Kafeeklatsch for enterprisers and the model for future Rotary, Kiwanis and Lions Clubs everywhere. Franklin, whose mug is on the minimum denomination of our inflated currency that currently matters, first became a model businessman before becoming a gentleman and statesman and world renowned scientist tinkerer.  Along the way he also started, with Thomas Paine and later Benjamin Rush, the first American anti-slavery organization and got France (who f’d up and trusted us) to provide arms and help for the war effort against “just authority.” But Franklin, who didn’t go to college, made friends first with the Bebe Rebozos and Robert Abplanalps of his day and not the real establishment types who went to Harvard, William & Mary, Princeton, Columbia, Yale & U Penn. While he became the darling of European salons for his wit and outlandishness (much as Mark Twain would do a century later), he didn’t delude himself about his “quality,” an exercise in prudence that was instrumental in his success.  Those establishment types comprised the banker princes of New York and Philadelphia, Boston Brahmins and scions of the top planter families of Virginia. What is most important about them is they all had made or inherited enough money that they didn’t have to work and could devote all their formidable energies to being well thought of as people who did everything for virtuous reasons and were above reproach because they “had no interest.”

Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, George Washington, Patrick Henry, John and Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Gouverneur Morris and Aaron Burr disagreed on many things but they were all members of the nascent American aristocracy.  Alexander Hamilton and Ben Franklin were wannabes taking very different roads and Thomas Paine was a perennial outsider.  Much has been written about all of these men and a lot of that is worthless hagiography of the “throwing a silver dollar across the Potomac” variety.  The reason there is so much of the latter is that for 18th century aspiring nobility, cultivating and then believing one’s PR was of critical importance. In their own day, each of these men was subject to scurrilous slander by opponents and responded to defend their honor or refrained from doing so. Revisionists, seeking to legitimize their agenda while pretending to be historians, later came along and accepted the slander as fact and some attempted to prove these facts with dubious rigor and uncertain veracity. The degree to which one could not only feign disinterestedness but actually show himself to be self-critically aware and sincere through writings and deeds says as much about the real quality of the man as we can ever know.

A marvelous illustration of the problem we face in understanding the men in full is the contrast between Ron Chernow’s biography of Hamilton (and the Broadway musical based on it) and Gore Vidal’s fictionalized account of Burr, who was Vice President under Jefferson, killed Hamilton in a duel, and was later tried and acquitted of treason.  One can factually support that Hamilton was a vindictive and underhanded egomaniac or genius patriot with rare integrity and a personal piety that today would be mainstream.  One could similarly say that Burr was a delusional rogue and murderer, or was one of the first and best American Whigs who was instrumental in creating what became the democratic progressive movement over against the anglophile and unreliable Federalist sellouts of whom Hamilton was chief strategist and instigator. It is a fool’s errand to try and establish that one side is all true and the other all false. Better is to understand that what these men shared, along with ambition, was a patriotic sense with opposing views as to what would be best for the new nation. We needed them all and the outcome of their creative conflict was for later generations providential.  As Pope said,

“Fortune her gifts may variously dispose,

And these by happy call’d, unhappy those;

But Heaven’s just balance equal will appear,

While those are placed in hope, and these in fear;

Not present good or ill, the joy or curse,

But future views of better or of worse.”

Republicanism, “The Federalist” and Anti-Federalists in the Cold/Hot Civil War

In the 18th century Republicanism did not mean what it means today. The parties in Britain and, by extension the colonies were Tories and Whigs, also known as Republicans. The Tories backed the Crown and generally shared in the spoils or obtained special privileges either by being high born and land owners or being favored as suppliers to the Crown. Members of the House of Lords were automatically Tory. The Whigs favored the broader plebiscite, were generally against corruption and tended to support dissenting religion over the Church of England.  Many though not all members of the House of Commons were Whigs. While Edmund Burke was a Whig he was also a conservative, meaning that he valued the British Constitution in that everyone should know his place and he was a traditionalist in respecting time sanctified mores and institutions. However, he supported the Americans in their struggle.  He also was very much against the revolutionists in France and thought their behavior irredeemable after they killed the King.  For those with real power, to call someone Republican was tantamount to saying he was a heretic and a traitor. Republicans saw themselves as reasonable and in between corruption above and anarchy below. Democrat was another word for anarchist. It should therefore come as no surprise that those who wanted nothing more than to put the troubles behind them and resume their ascent to positions of favor, if not outright nobility, colonists who were not reprobate in the Revolution as Tory’s would have Tory sympathies.  The Republicans in the colonies while initially dominant in leading the development of the new government of The United States soon lost ground to those who called themselves Federalists, who were both for strong central government over states’ rights and were at least suspected of either wanting an American king or a viceroy who would lead America back into the British Commonwealth.  Noted Federalists were George Washington, Gouverneur Morris, John Jay, Alexander Hamilton and John Adams. Noted Whigs or Republicans were James Madison who then became a leading Federalist, Thomas Jefferson, Aaron Burr and Ben Franklin.

The Articles of Confederation formed the first government of the colonies during the Revolution. Once the war ended in 1783 the new nation was faced with huge debts, including to soldiers it failed to pay which resulted in Shays Rebellion and the unfortunate execution of former war heroes for demanding to be treated with respect.  The rebellion demonstrated the weakness of the government and provided justification for a Constitutional Convention to fix the articles or form a new government.  It also demonstrated that the egalitarian society for which men gave their lives and treasure was still a dream. Madison (a Federalist/Republican from Virginia) and Hamilton (a Federalist from New York) were chief among the advocates for a complete overhaul. They then wrote, with a bit of help from Federalist Jay, what we now know as The Federalist Papers to persuade delegates and the voting public that a new government was needed and on what principles it should be chartered. In Federalist #10 and #14, Madison describes how the Republic will represent the people and why they should believe it can.  In Federalist #84, Hamilton explains why no Bill of Rights was needed. In others articles the duo explained separation of powers, checks and balances and pretty much establish the rationale and content of the Constitution that ensued.  The Federalists prevailed in the short term, but during the battles for ratification their opponents forced inclusion of specific enumerations of citizens’ rights, even though they knew it would make it appear these rights were being granted rather than merely recognized by government as a constraint on itself.  The idea that government was the author of rights was absurd to Republicans of the era, but they didn’t trust that a Constitution which didn’t state them would be worth much at all. That their descendants could be taught or conditioned to accept government authority without question would have invalidated everything they had fought for.

The conflict never stopped between those who saw the revolution being won in favor of a loose confederation of states with limited central authority, and those who wanted a stronger union both to enhance prestige for themselves but also because they understood realpolitik and felt that unless America had a strong central authority there would be no economic miracle and the country would be easily dominated by foreign powers. What in time happened was that the new nation became far more democratic than most of its “founding fathers” could have imagined. At the same time, the stage was set early for struggles that would ultimately come to blows over where the real power lay: with the central government, the states or the people themselves.  Consequently, when then President John Adams created the Alien and Sedition Acts, Jefferson advocated state nullification of what he believed to be a tyrannical enactment by the Federalists and prompted  Kentucky and Virginia to begin secession. Jefferson rode the issue to Presidential victory in 1800 in effect saying the Federalists were traitors to the Revolution and the Republic. State nullification was never argued out of the basis for government but was settled by force of arms, not law or popular will, when Lincoln, ironically a Republican, prosecuted a war (1861-1865) between the federal government and many of the states who had the right to secede (whether or not we like their reasons to do so) leaving more American solders dead than in all other conflicts combined.  As it turned out, France got her bloody dictator followed by an imperium sooner and Uncle Sam got his four score and a few years later.  At least France defeated external enemies who wanted to re-establish the ancien regime. Uncle Sam was enabled by a war between brothers to become an empire with Hamilton’s brain children: a proper military and central bank the likes of which the original Republicans  had fought to obviate, having first eaten the kids rather than doing the work of moving the end of slavery forward through peaceful means as was happening in other nations. The Republicans, or renamed Federalists, would ever-after be a party of total, perpetual war and economic repression.

Conclusion – Why Care About the American Revolution?

The frontier has been closed for many years so why worry about ideas that were informed by a reality that is completely alien to most Americans, or people anywhere, today? Why not agree with William Blackstone, who wrote the instruction manual for aspiring British lawyers in the 18th century, that part of what citizens gave up in the social contract is the ability to do anything but run away from would be attackers and call for help given a chance, or huddle in fear waiting for assistance that would hopefully arrive in time to do more than clean up the mess, or who would wait outside with donuts while children are slaughtered by lunatics on prescribed “anti-depressants” because we first disarmed the victims to stop violence in our utopia? Why indeed worry about a predatory gang of government thugs who invade houses, shoot pets, flash bang the faces off sleeping infants or grope travelers to “keep us all safe?” Why be concerned about universal electronic unreasonable search and seizure or public asset forfeiture to fund the cops’ wet bar and keep the public in a state of fear just as the German Nazis did? We don’t need to worry about people on the government payroll using their positions to rob other citizens and make them virtual slaves or make their efforts to improve pointless do we? We certainly don’t need to worry about factions in the government using advanced technology to rig markets, or working with the intelligence services of foreign governments to invalidate our choices of leadership, misinformed though they may be, right? All these things are behind us, right? We are civilized, after all, aren’t we? Why worry about a government that is run by sociopaths who never heard of Ciceronian virtue and could any minute extinguish all life as we know it by pressing a button when the sea level might be rising a couple of inches each year due to factors that may be caused in part by people exhaling, driving internal combustion vehicles and by cow farts (though we can’t know because the data are supplied to us by people whom we know to be crazy liars)?  And what does this have to do with keeping our data safe from sinners whose main goal is to sell us stuff we might actually like, those dastards? Why ask why?

At the very least, any putative ethics of information should consider whether the American Revolution established for all time and everywhere that individuals are sovereign and that their rights do not exist at the whim of governments, their betters by birth or education, or special groups with axes to grind. The very idea that one’s livelihood or freedom from incarceration could depend on social scores in China or elsewhere that include whether the government likes what you say as reported by commercial entities, neighbors and ongoing surveillance is anathema in any open and pluralistic society. We have work to do to reestablish freedoms our forefathers made the ultimate sacrifice for before it is too late. Virtue signaling while covering massive exploitation and corruption; along with operant conditioning of consumers as both lab rats and cash cows for schemes both public and private; all are antithetical to liberty and free persons should have no part in supporting these abominations as consumers, workers or tax payers.

By vitruvius1

Formerly an integrated marketing and customer experience consultant. Writer on moral philosophy and current affairs.

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